Introduction: Whisky Barrel Chair

About: Woodworking gadget fan, photographer, husband, cyclist, kayaking SUP riding real ale drinker. More of this stuff is over at my Instagram.

I've been meaning to make an Adirondack chair for a while now. As an amateur woodworker I feel like it is a project that all makers must take on at some point.
While browsing Pinterest I stumbled across these chairs from Hungarian Workshop a company in California. This inspired me to get off the sofa, next thing I needed to do was find a barrel, this was done from the sofa 😁
I found a company that sells used whisky barrels, amazingly they were only 20 km (12.5 miles) up the road from home.

I picked up two barrels with the idea to make a chair for my wife and me.

These barrels have quite the story, they are originally made and used in the southern US for storing and ageing bourbon, after a year they are sent to Scotland where they are then used to age whisky for a further three years.

Step 1: Getting the Supplies Together

Supplies used...

1 x Oak whisky barrel
Box of 4x40 mm (1.57") Phillips screws
28 x M6x20 mm (1/4-28 x 0.79") insert nuts
28 x M6x20 mm (1/4-28 x 0.79") machine screws
14 x steel brackets, 3 mm x 40 mm x 110 mm (0.12" x 1.57" x 4.33") these will be bent to fit as required
500 ml (1 pint) of outdoor clear varnish

Step 2: Disassembling the Barrel

This was a fun bit of the project, I started by trying to knock the bands off the barrel but this was going nowhere fast.
As I wasn't planning on reusing the bands I decided to cut the bands off. Be warned, these bands are under quite a bit of tension and will spring off with quite a force when cut through.
Removing the last one is good fun though.
I used a 1 mm (0.039") zip disk in the angle grinder.

Step 3: Stave Clean-up

This step of the project was no fun at all.
Part of the process of bourbon and whisky making is that they are stored in burnt barrels.
Because these are pre-loved barrels the inside face of the staves are charred and the outside are rusty where the bands sat for years.
I removed as much of the charring as possible using a combination of wood and metal scrapers. Once this was done I moved to a sanding disk on an angle grinder.
My plan was to clean up the staves just enough to make them usable but still maintained the look of an old whisky barrel. As such I removed all the loose burning and the majority of the rust from the outside face. Around the top and bottom there were grooves called a croze, this had some paint and sealant in, I also cleaned most of this out with the sanding disk.

All this sanding makes a huge amount of dust, WEAR A MASK !

Step 4: Leg Layout

To make sure the chair had enough strength I picked four of the wider staves, these were to be parts shown in red and blue on the image, ignore the green parts as these are just to support the arms for layout purposes.
I wanted to make sure the seat was wide enough to be comfortable, so I sat and measured under my legs, this measured 450 mm, I added a bit and got 560 mm for the distance between the front legs.
The stave at the very front of the chair was screwed to the front upright legs with the Phillips screws. The excess was cut off with a Japanese pull saw. This was the first time I had cut one of the staves, the smell of the whisky was amazing, a beautiful smell.
The red legs weren't yet secured in place yet as I needed to figure out the seat.

Step 5: Back and Seat Layout

The next step was to decide on the layout for the back and seat.
This bit was tricky as I only had a couple of images to go off, none with measurements.
I wanted to make sure the seat fitted me (this was going to be my chair) so I sat on another chair with my feet flat on the ground and measured to the inside of my knee. This gave a measurement of 455 mm (1' 5⅞"), my seat height. I then measured from my the inside of my knee to my back, this was 435 mm (1' 5⅛") and my seat depth.
I was now able to choose the staves to use and set the seat layout.
FYI I'm 172.5 cm (5ft 8ins) and these measurements are spot on for me.

I made an error when screwing the seat staves onto the red legs, I originally used a single screw but this allowed the legs to skew, adding a second screw on each stave made it rock solid.
Now I had the seat in place I was able to attach the red to blue legs, this was done using one of the metal brackets. Each bracket was bent in my bench vice, set half in the jaws and 'tapped' with a hammer to shape.

The brackets are secured in place with the insert nuts. The M6 insert nuts I was using called for an 8 mm (0.31") wide 20 mm (0.79") deep hole. I put some tape around a brad point drill bit at 20 mm (0.79") to make sure I didn't drill too deep and go all the way through the staves.

Step 6: Adding Back and Arm Rests

Attaching the back in place was a tricky task. This was mainly due to the weight, on its own the back weights around 12 kg (26.5 lbs).
The bottom back cross member was fitted to the underside of the red using the insert nuts and bent metal brackets. I had originally used a single bracket on one side of the cross member, I later added a second bracket on the other side.
My aim was to maintain a 90º angle between the seat and back.

The arm rests themselves add a great deal of strength to the chair and also hold the back in place.
The height is set so that my arms are in a comfortable position and level when sat.
They are secured in place with a single bracket to the front blue leg and another bracket to the back support middle cross member.

Step 7: Horizontal Cross Brace

Although the seat was strong enough to sit on as it was I decided to add a horizontal cross brace between the front and curved back leg.
Again, this was secured in place with metal brackets. The angle between the cross brace and rear leg was tricky, so I made a quick template from a Cornflake box, I could then bend the bracket to exactly the correct angle.

Step 8: Varnish Finish

Up to this point every time you touched or sat in the seat you were covered in the black dust from the burnt wood. Also, the seat was due to be spending its life outdoors to I applied the outdoor varnish.
The legs and arms got three coats of varnish, the seat and back got four coats.
I picked the specific varnish I used because it had a drying time allowing only 4 hours between coats.

Step 9: In Its Final Home

Here's the finished chair in its final home.
It's pictured here next to my 'Bonsai' oak tree, fitting I thought as it's made from an oak barrel.

The good and bad thing is that this chair won't be blown around on the deck as it weighs around 50 kg (110 lbs).

Right... I'm off to make my wife's chair now.

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